Off-Season Tracker: DL


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Off-Season Tracker: DL

Welcome to the 2020 Free Agency Review: IDP-style. We break down the major moves this offseason by position. The articles are ordered by players changing teams ("New Homes") and by players sticking with their 2019 teams ("Staying Put"), and players are ordered by their potential fantasy impact in each section. Don’t see your favorite DE or OLB? Be sure to check out the EDGE article for free agent pass-rushers.

New Homes

Gerald McCoy (Dal) — The former Buccaneer-turned-Panther rental-turned-Cowboy signed a three-year deal with Dallas.

Fantasy Points: The bedrock of the Tampa Bay D-line for years, McCoy has settled into a 35-tackle, 5-sack guy for the last four years, never able to duplicate his 50-tackle,10-sack season in 2013. He rarely had enough help around him in Tampa Bay, but that won’t be the case in Big D, as DE DeMarcus Lawrence and the newly-signed DT Dontari Poe (more on him later) will allow McCoy to see fewer double-teams. While we’re not expecting a return to his 2013 production (McCoy is 32), we could see a return to fantasy relevance.

McCoy has been nothing if not consistent. Playing in at least 14 games in seven of his last eight seasons, his slow-but-steady production tracks pretty consistently even through changing teams, revolving DCs and linemates, and Father Time marching on. He’s only posted one season of fewer than 34 tackles since 2013, though he’s only posted one 40+ tackle season during that stretch as well. His 5 sacks last season gave him eight straight seasons of at least 5 sacks, but he hasn’t sniffed double-digit sacks in years.

McCoy should slot in as a reliable DT2, but he does have some upside. Not only will he have much-needed help around him, he should see a return to his normal solo/assist splits. Last season, Carolina’s tackle crew depressed his solo tackles (which they’re notorious for doing…oh for Luke Kuechly to have played in front of a better stat crew), so the move to the NFC East should result in 5-10 more solos next season.

Dontari Poe (Dal) — The Cowboys continue re-tooling their defensive line with the addition of the NFL’s leading TD-passer among players over 300 pounds.

Fantasy Points: While we’re pretty sure Dak Prescott’s job is safe (well, no one’s job is safe in the NFL, but we’re not predicting a ton of Poe-to-Cooper connections), Poe brings more fantasy firepower than it may seem. Poe’s numbers have dipped the last two seasons, and at first blush that may seem like signs of decline. But Poe missed five games last season, and still managed 4 sacks and 22 tackles in Carolina, while looking quick and explosive. This makes his dip in production in 2018 look more like the outlier than a trend. Poe is just 29 and in position to rebound next to his ex-Panther linemate Gerald McCoy.

We’re also not worried about the Cowboys electing to keep Tyrone Crawford even after signing Poe and McCoy. Crawford has plenty of experience lining up on the outside, and should be ticketed to replace DE Robert Quinn.

Jordan Phillips (Ari) — Phillips moves to sunny Arizona on a 4-year, $40M deal and fortifies an otherwise soft interior line.

Fantasy Points: The Cardinals finally gave up on draft bust Robert Nkemdiche and let troubled DT Terell McClain walk. Needing someone to help edge rusher Chandler Jones, the Cardinals turned to the 29-year-old Phillips, fresh off his best statistical season. Phillips racked up 9.5 sacks and 31 tackles - both career highs - as a rotational player in Buffalo. While he didn’t look great on tape, Arizona is banking on him building on that breakout season. For fantasy purposes though, it’s hard to get excited about Phillips’ role. In general, the 3-4 DLs in this defensive scheme in Arizona haven’t been fantasy relevant, and we don’t see that changing with the addition of Phillips. If he continues to ascend, he’s got DL2 upside, but the odds are stacked against him. He’ll be asked to tie up OLs so Jones and Devon Kennard can get to the QB. Unless his role changes - always a possibility with so much changing for defensive schemes these days - we think Phillips found a bad landing spot for his fantasy potential.

Vernon Butler (Buf) — Butler signs a 2-year pact with Buffalo as part of their DL rotation.

Fantasy Points: Similar to the aforementioned Jordan Phillips, Butler had his breakout year in 2019. He had career highs in sacks (6), tackles (32), TFL (7), and FF (3). He also played a career-high 440 snaps as he moved from backend rotational player to starter. The factors that lead us to liking Butler a little more than Phillips are that not only is Butler just 25, but the Bills are a huge upgrade in terms of tackle crew. Butler may set another career high in solo tackles this year, as his former team is one of the worst at awarding those seemingly hard-to-earn stats. Buffalo hands solos out like mixtapes. Yeah, I said it: mixtapes. Go look it up, kids.

So what’s not to like? Wellllllllll, there is a numbers issue. As in, the number of interior linemen the Bills currently have rostered. Emerging stud DT Ed Oliver ain’t going anywhere. And veteran Star Lotuleilei had a strong season for the Bills. Oh, and then there’s newly-signed Quinton Jefferson, who graded highest among this group, according to PFF. Butler can carve out plenty of playing time to be fantasy relevant, but we’d need to see him clearly earn a prominent role before banking on him this season.

Staying Put

Chris Jones (KC) — The Chiefs placed the franchise tag on their star pass-rusher, coming in around $6 million.

Fantasy Points: We predicted Jones wouldn't reach nor surpass his gaudy 2018 numbers (15.5 sacks, 40 tackles), but that was never based on his talent. His role slightly shifted as then new DC Steve Spagnuolo installed his 4-3 scheme, and that led to fewer pass-rushing opps. Yet Jones still managed 9 sacks and 36 tackles in just 13 games. The 25-year-old is clearly one of the cornerstones to this Kansas City defense, and a double-digit sack season is well within his reach. While only posting one multi-sack game in 2019 (he had five such games in 2018), he remained a consistent producer, and now has a full season of the new defensive scheme under his belt. Jones should once again be in the DL1 conversation as his best years are likely right in front of him.

Jarran Reed (Sea) — Reed signed a 2-year, $23 milion deal to remain in Seattle and possibly anchor their D-line.

Fantasy Points: So much is up in the air at the moment with Seattle’s defensive line. With most of Reed’s 2019 linemates either free agents or already signed with other teams, the team chose to at least keep the talented Reed in place. Reed exploded in 2018 with 10.5 sacks and 50 tackles, but began the 2019 season with a 6-game suspension. He mustered just 2 sacks during his 10 games, but did record 27 tackles. Before his sack attack of 2018, Reed had established himself as a tackle-producer, a trend he’s been consistent with. Reed also rotated more last season, but his snap counts rose as the Seahawks clawed their way toward a playoff berth. Perhaps Reed got off to a slow start coming off his suspension. Perhaps his double-digit sack season was a fluke. Will he be playing by himself next season, or will Seattle actually sign or draft Reed some playmates? All of that is TBD, but we feel comfortable penciling in another dominant season against the run if nothing else. Unless free agency or the draft bring bad news or Reed, he’s a DT1 in tackle-heavy leagues, with big play upside.

Michael Brockers (LAR) — Well THAT was awkward. The Rams let Brockers walk to the Ravens, only to have the Ravens send him back due to a failed physical. So the Rams signed him for a similar deal as the Ravens offered, a three-year contract worth up to $31.5 million. Welcome home…?

Fantasy Points: Brockers has never been much on big plays. The 29-year-old is usually good for 3-4 sacks, but his fantasy value lies in tackles. He posted a career-high 63 tackles last season, and has topped 50 tackles in each of his last three seasons. He’s likely got a few more solid years of similar production, particularly as teams focus on linemate Aaron Donald, as long as he can stay healthy.

Speaking of health, there’s this pesky issue of Baltimore rejecting a deal with Brockers due to a failed physical. Brockers suffered a high-ankle sprain last season, and the Ravens weren’t happy with how things looked regarding that. So the Rams will hope he fully recovers and is healthy for the season. If so, expect Brockers to be a DL2/DL3 in tackle-heavy leagues.

Leonard Williams (NYG) — Williams stays with the Giants, playing under the franchise tag.

Fantasy Points: The knock on Williams coming out of the draft was his lack of a diverse set of pass rush chops. Other than his sophomore season - where he posted 7 sacks - he hasn’t shown much to allay those concerns. Though still just 25, Williams posted just a half-sack last season with the Jets before being traded, well, to the same building where he became a Giant. He failed to record a sack in his seven games with his new team. This has made Williams more of an early down player, but he’s been very effective as a run defender. Thus, we like him in tackle-heavy leagues, particularly if you can slot him in as a DT. And speaking of tackles, staying with the Giants has the added benefit of a generous stat crew when it comes to awarding tackles.

The issue facing his tackle numbers starts with playing time. Earlier in his career, he was a 60-70 tackle guy, playing almost 900 snaps. Last season, between two teams, Williams logged 700 snaps. Plenty of factors could have contributed to this, including being in the doghouse with the Jets, then the Giants trying to find his fit for them. Williams posted 46 tackles, which was in line with his previous two seasons of 47 and 42 tackles respectively. Chances are, the Giants will give him a shot to play a lot, and we could see a solid 50-tackle, 3-5 sack season out of Williams, who still has time to develop and should be more comfortable in his second season with Big Blue.

Ndamukong Suh (TB) — The Bucs keep their veteran interior lineman on a one-year deal worth $8 million.

Fantasy Points: At 33, Suh is no longer an elite player, but he’s also no longer the young player who collected fines and suspensions like baseball cards. With Gerald McCoy in Carolina last season, Suh held down the middle of the Tampa Bay defensive line, logging 874 snaps (77%) while being particularly effective against the run. As sophomore DT Vita Vea continues to develop, we could see Suh get more breathers. However, the veteran is still playing so well that another 40-50 tackle season is easily within reach. He’s a good fit in Tampa Bay and a good fit for your DT2/DL3 slot.

Justin has been holding down the IDP fort for John Hansen and the crew since 2015. In addition to projections and articles, he also hosts an all-IDP podcast called “The IDP Corner,” where he is joined by his fellow FantasyPoints IDP contributor Thomas Simons, along with other special guests.